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Aadhar – will it continue after the court order ?




This is something that has me terribly confused. And when I try to make sense out of it, the conclusion that comes out of the whole Aadhar affair is that somebody (or a number of people) in the Government apparently did not do their homework properly. And since the Government has projected that the total expenditure on Aadhar is around Rs. 50,000 crore, it is an incredible waste due to the current order of the court, and one would blame the Government for not being able to predict the legal challenges or being able to project the benefits.
Like many projects, one would consider that the idea of this project was a noble one, to develop an identity for every citizen (some dispute on this one, since there were allegations that the identity was proposed to be extended to non-citizens as well). However, there were some doubts right from the beginning; it was never clearly explained why none of the existing identity documents could be extended for this use, and there was a running dispute with the National Population Register that was being pushed by the Home Ministry. These disputes were resolved, however, a lot of the questions were raised in public but the answers were never clearly provided. For such a vast project, the Government really did not try to bring any public discussion or projection of why such a project was needed.
One of the main advantages of this identity was to make this basis for the Direct Cash Transfer scheme (which was meant to eliminate subsidies, and instead provide the alternative cash to the needy recipients, and the Aadhar was supposed to ensure that leakage and corruption was reduced). The Government did a lot of propagation about the need for getting an Aadhar registration so as to ensure that the needy got their subsidies, and one of the ways of pushing this was by linking many of the services with an Aadhar card (including getting subsidies for LPG cylinders, even for getting marriage certificates, etc).
The problem with the above process was that it started getting coercive; unless you got an Aadhar registration, you would not get these benefits, and this is what was pushing people to get the registration done. However, like any other process that was being undertaken through the Government bureaucracy and with the huge size and population of India, projections were that it would take a few years to complete.
However, this was certainly not acceptable to the Government. The Direct Cash Transfer scheme was a part of the sops needed for the 2014 elections, and hence there was a big push to get the Aadhar process done. But there were many problems with implementation, no matter what Mr. Nilekani might claim. There was the embarrassment of the early registrations of the Aadhar being needed to be done again because of some glitches; many of the people who got the registration done complained of unresponsive officials and of a painful process. Another significant part of the entire process was the arrangement of either banking institutions in rural areas with no-frills accounts, sometimes unclear documentation for account opening, and other micro-finance institutions needed to ensure that citizens everywhere got access to money transferred as part of the Direct Cash Transfer scheme.
Aadhar registration also included collection of bio-metric data, and there has been a lot of discussion about the safety of this bio-metric data, and whether collection of this data has legal approval. And this was very surprising, with Government having so many lawyer-ministers, and access to many other top-notch lawyers otherwise, having a proper legal discussion about whether the entire collection of such data, and making the Aadhar mandatory for collecting benefits seems not to have been discussed properly.
The prime usage of the Aadhar card has been for getting benefits, with Aadhar being mandatory. However, in a decision a few months back, the Supreme Court invalidated the mandatory nature of the Aadhar identity for getting the benefits, which knocked out the entire reason for getting Aadhar registration done. The Government was shocked at this, made the necessary noises about filing a review petition, and continued with making Aadhar mandatory, as if the court order was not really applicable. The order of today has re-affirmed to the Government very clearly that Aadhar cannot be mandatory for any transaction, and this will totally remove the need for people to sign-up for Aadhar registration. And as a side note, the person leading the Aadhar effort, Nandan Nilekani had already resigned so as to fight elections on behalf of the Congress, and one can now expect the Government to give Aadhar a quiet burial (the Congress has not been claiming Direct Cash transfer in the current elections, since it is not in a position to claim that the scheme is anywhere near completion).




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